Q and A with Howling Bird Press Author John Medeiros

John Medeiros

What is it about writing that energizes you?
The intimacy of that space is what energizes me. Writing centers me. It reminds me of my place in the larger scheme of things, and it forces me to pause and reflect on those portions of my life that need reflection. It’s easy to avoid something when there is always something else that needs our attention. Writing allows me the space and intimacy I need with that something that would otherwise be avoided.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
It is common for writers to focus on the product of writing, with so little regard to the process that leads to that product. This is why we often self-edit while we write which, if you think about it, is a type of censorship – a form of self-doubt. If we could have a deeper reverence for the process we would grow as writers, and here’s why: becoming intimate with the process builds in us a trust that the product will eventually happen. We don’t need to know what the end result will look like before that process has begun; what we need to know is that the process will get us there. Knowing and trusting the process builds in us a sense that we are writers and removes the self-doubt that tells us we aren’t.

What is your writing Kryptonite?
I tend to think about my audience too much and too early on in the process. This, too, leads to self-censorship. I am often reminding myself that no one but me needs to know what I’m writing about and the process will eventually reveal what audience, if any, I need to share my writing with.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
For 12 years I co-curated an LGBTQI reading series called Queer Voices with Intermedia Arts. Through that series so many queer-identified writers have shared their voices and their stories. I am still in contact with many of them as I’ve watched them develop as strong literary voices in our community. It’s funny, but a few years ago I deactivated my Facebook account; I felt it was not meeting my needs at the time and was more of a negative influence than a positive influence in my life. My account was deactivated for almost a year, and in that year several colleagues published books, performed readings, and announced awards for their writing. I missed all of them, which saddened me. So I reactivated my Facebook account so I would stay in the loop as much as possible (social media really is the primary means of communication with respect to these things). Since then I’ve attended readings (both in-person and virtual) and read books I would not otherwise have heard about. Why do I say this? For two reasons:

First, to show the power of social media and to remind others that social media is something that we can actually control (while recognizing that, if not used wisely, can also control us). For me, I had to find the right purpose, and that purpose is to reconnect with other writers, including those who are LGBTQI-identified.

Second, in response to your question of how other authors help me become a better writer, to illustrate how important it is to acknowledge other writers and read/listen to their work. Seeing other perspectives and other points of view betters me as a writer. Hearing not just the stories of others but how those stories are told humbles me and reminds me there is always room and time to learn new things.

Do you want each of your stories to stand on their own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between them?
My writing is definitely about connections between stories. My memoir, for example, contains poems – or some versions of poems – that were previously included in my book of poetry. This is because the stories of our lives are interconnected to a larger whole, and the connections between those stories is what adds texture and complexity to our lives.

Self, Divided book cover

What have you done since you won the Howling Bird Press prize?
Since winning the award I revised the manuscript several times – that kept me busy! I’m also an immigration lawyer, let’s just say that kept me busy, too!

What did you do with your first writing advance?
First? Will there be another? LOL. Actually, I donated it to a few non-profits, including those that foster queer-identified writers.

How many unpublished and half-finished books/stories do you have?
Dozens, including unfinished poems. I literally have folder called “first lines to work from” and another called “drafts.” Literally dozens.

Running and Writing

Kristine “Kris” Joseph ’20

Kris Joseph is joining a growing list of MFA alumni with published books. She is a 2020 Howling Bird Press and MFA nonfiction graduate from Augsburg University. However, she has been a writer since she was a little kid.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in Communication at UW Milwaukee, Kris started working at United Health Group (Optum). She’s an executive assistant, but her passion for writing has never taken a back seat to her work. When she started looking into a master’s program for writing, she spoke to her boss who encouraged her to go back to school. And with her company’s tuition reimbursement benefit, she was able to do so at Augsburg.

“Augsburg best fit since I was working full time and needed a low-residency program,” says Kris. “I knew I wanted to write about mental health, but decided I needed to polish my work. At Augsburg, my thesis was my memoir.”

Kris incorporated her running into her writing. She hasn’t read about many people using running to help with mental health, despite Kris meeting so many runners over the years who shared stories of their own battles with mental health.

“When you’re running with a team, you have so much time with people and coaches, so there’s always mental health training. Runners talk about their own problems. It was super interesting to me to meet these wonderful people and hear their stories,” says Kris.

Kris’s memoir is about her struggle with mental health from eight years old until the present. She integrates ways she fights depression, which includes her running. And while she always knew what she was going to write about in her memoir, she credits her time in the MFA program – especially her work on Howling Bird Press – as a huge help to her final book.

Kris was part of the editorial team that published Self, Divided by John Medeiros, which will be released April 16.

“Being able to work on the publishing process for Self, Divided was the most helpful class that I took during the MFA program at Augsburg. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without going through this process with Jim Cihlar and team.”

Kris was surprised how much she enjoyed reading the Howling Bird Press contest submissions.

“Reading others’ work and editing helped with the classes I was taking. When I had to send in a draft for my own thesis, it was easier because I’d been editing and thinking creatively already.”

Kris worked with a self-publishing company, Wise Ink, to publish her memoir, Simply Because We Are Human. Wise Ink is a small Minneapolis company started by women, something Kris was particularly interested in.

“I could do a lot myself because of what I’d learned from Howling Bird press. For example, I used a friend from my undergrad program to do the cover art. And I’m doing the audio book with a friend who is an actor. Wise Ink hooks you up with everything you need, kind of an à la carte deal, and they have a project manager that oversees it all.”

Kris loved being able to shape her memoir – the writing and the publishing – herself. And she sees self-publishing as a growing commodity for writers.

“When I’m done I have all the rights, 100% of sales. Self-publishing is something that will be utilized more in the future. There are some people that won’t look at a book if it’s self-published, but they’re missing out on a lot.”

Before her memoir was officially published, Kris was already thinking of her next project. She wrote a screenplay based on her book in partnership with Andy Froemke, the MFA screenwriter professor. The script is called Beyond Blue.

She is also writing through her training for this year’s Grandma’s Marathon.

“I never thought I’d run another marathon, but I wanted something to help deal with the grief of this last year, so I’m writing about that. It might be a book, it might not.”

Kris’s memoir, Simply Because We Are Human, is available for order at her website: https://www.kjjosephwriter.com.

Review from James Cihlar, Howling Bird Press

“In Simply Because We Are Human, running—both competitively and recreationally—is the lifeline that helps KJ Joseph manage clinical depression. A track star from a young age, Joseph finds motivation to keep running in the memory of her late grandmother, a gifted athlete who competed in sports as a member of the first class of WAVES in the 1940s. This swift and dexterous memoir lays bare the challenges and triumphs of effective mental health treatment.

How do we live with depression without shutting down all of our emotions, even the painful ones? ‘Running is all about letting go,’ Joseph writes. Bracing, sensitive, and savvy, Simply Because We Are Human shares hard-won lessons along with a vigorous dose of inspiration.”

James Cihlar, author of The Shadowgraph

Alumna Kris Joseph talks about new HBP book: ‘Self, Divided’

MFA and HBP alumna, Kristine Joseph, talks about her experience as a student working for Howling Bird Press and the process of picking the 2020 book prize winner, ‘Self, Divided’ by John Medeiros.

Check out her video on our Facebook page!

https://www.facebook.com/howlingbirdpress/videos/476956990156287

Winner Announcement!

(February 2021, Minneapolis) The editors of Howling Bird Press are excited to announce the semifinalists, finalists, and winner of the 2021 Poetry Prize:

Winner

Almost Sunset at High Noon, Jean Prokott

Finalists (in alphabetical order)

tips for masturbating discreetly during the revolution {for women!} &other poems, Zoe Canner

寂寞先知 (( lonely prophet )),Michael Chang

Equus caballus: When the Rider Halters the Horse, Donna J. Gelagotis Lee

LETTING GRAVITY SPEAK, Erika Michael

Weathervanes in the Direction of Why, Eva Skrande

Semifinalists (in alphabetical order)

Grim Honey: Poems, Jessica Barksdale

Lighting Out for the Invisible, Danielle Dubrasky

The Bereaved and the Unbereaved, Richard Lyons

Last Known Address, Jane Medved

Take, Eat;, Mason Nunemaker

Everything Gets Louder in the Dark, Jason Olsen

HERSELF, Deborah Phelps

Head of a Gorgon, Raegen M. Pietrucha

PAPA PAPA A New Father’s Journey, Richard Weekley

The press is grateful to the many authors who entered. It was an honor to consider such amazing submissions. The winning book will be published in fall 2021. Please check back here and on our social media for further updates.

“Self, Divided” on Most Anticipated Books List

Howling Bird Press’s 2020 nonfiction prize-winning book, “Self, Divided,” by John Medeiros, made the “Lambda Literary Review” list for most anticipated books of February! Congratulations to our author and, of course, our student editors!

Promoting Diversity Through Poetry

In the spring of 2020, Augsburg alumna Tracy Ross ’19 found out she won the Presidential Graduate Diversity Scholarship from Bowling Green State University. This merit-based award is given to a student who plans to promote diversity within the graduate student population at Bowling Green.

Tracy wanted to go to Bowling Green to earn her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing. She heard it’s one of “the best hidden school in the country” from then MFA nonfiction mentor, Karen Babine. Tracy also has family who have attended Bowling Green. With the Presidential Graduate Diversity Scholarship, Tracy plans to combine her passion for poetry and community service to bring poetry to inner city youth and urban areas.

Tracy’s connection to diversity started as a young child and she believes her diverse background is what has helped her get to where she is today.

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Tracy’s father is Black and her mother is European Caucasian. She attended school through her sophomore year of high school, then started her own path to higher education. Her father worked in the automotive industry and when economic hardship forced the automotive plants to close, Tracy’s family moved to Chicago so her parents could find work. Here, Tracy homeschooled herself. On her own, she learned what it would take to pass the equivalency test and she succeeded. With her GED, Tracy got herself into Roosevelt University in Chicago at an age when her peers were still in high school.

“Early on I realized that through my family’s economic hardship and inequalities, you can’t see the potential in yourself unless you see the potential in other people. I felt really blessed I have a diverse background, and that I was exposed not only to hardship, but I was blessed in having the fortitude and the privilege to be a thinking, aware human being,” Tracy says.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in English Literature, she went on to Bemidji State to earn a master’s degree in education. Tracy wanted to teach creative writing, but she realized that in order to teach creative writing at a post-secondary level, she would need a subject-specific degree. Tracy researched many universities and after reading Augsburg’s mission statement about its education to service, and seeing the diverse faculty in the MFA program, she decided the best fit would be Augsburg’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

“Between the residency and the remote technology, that’s a big part of the incentive of going to Augsburg University. Especially in an MFA program, you have to work alone as a writer and [the program] gave me so much time to go back and forth between the mentorship and working alone. Augsburg was very progressive with that style of teaching,” Tracy says.

Tracy’s focus was on poetry and publishing. She considers herself blessed to have had the opportunity to work with four different MFA mentors: Cary Waterman, Heid E. Erdrich, Karen Babine, and James Cihlar. Tracy was also part of Augsburg’s Howling Bird Press the entire time she was in the program, until she graduated in 2019 with an MFA in Publishing.

“Augsburg University was the best experience in my life,” Tracy says. “I’m so grateful to Heid Erdrich for editing my thesis which I was able to publish.”

Tracy’s focus during the Spring 2021 semester will be on publishing her next book, as well as focusing on her research and dissertation for her Ph.D. work.

Tracy Ross is a poet, writer, and humanist. She holds a B.A. in English from Roosevelt University and a Master’s in Education. She is also a graduate of Augsburg University’s MFA Program. Her work is paramount in fusing poetic purist tradition with the modern technological progress and its influence on the mind. Her first collection of poetry, Broken Signals (Trials of Disconnect) is available from Shanti Arts Press. Her novella, Certainty of One–A Tale of Education Automation was released in November of 2018 by Adelaide Press. James Dean and the Beautiful Machine was just released in February 2020. She currently lives and works in Minnesota.

Give to the Max Success!

We would like to extend a special THANK YOU to those who donated to Howling Bird Press for Give to the Max this year. The students and professors are all thrilled by your show of support. We greatly appreciate your gifts and what it means for our continued work, which includes publishing the winner of the 2021 Poetry Contest.

Last week was a historic Give to the Max for Augsburg. We raised the largest amount we’ve ever raised during Give to the Max from the most donors we’ve ever had. Here are the highlights:

  • $465,381 raised across 41 projects – a new record!
  • 1,683 total donors – the most we’ve ever seen!
  • Gifts came from 41 states!
  • 56% of our 41 projects (including Howling Bird Press and the MFA program’s inaugural scholarship) were fully funded and many others were very close to fully funded.
  • One couple gave to 17 different projects.

This day continues to energize our students, faculty, and staff every year and we can’t wait to see what we can accomplish next year!

Q and A with Howling Bird Press Author Lisa Van Orman Hadley

Author Lisa Van Orman Hadley

What is it about writing that energizes you?

I often say that I don’t like writing but I like having written. The actual writing is sometimes transcendent, sometimes painfully hard, and most of the time it’s just okay—like life, I suppose. But I just don’t feel right when I haven’t written. I am taken over by a general malaise. When I’ve written, I feel better. It’s the feeling of finally having your ears pop on the way down from the mountain after being at a higher altitude.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Well, I know one trap for me was thinking I had to make everything up. I thought that, in order for my writing to be worthy, everything in it had to be 100 percent invented, 100 percent original. I don’t believe that anymore. We just need to have an original voice. Basically, stop worrying so much about having something to say and figure out a way to say what you already know.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Self-doubt. I can always think of a million reasons why my voice doesn’t matter. Ultimately, I have to do it for me and hope it matters to someone.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Most of my author friends are people I met in my MFA program. Because we all came up in the program together and we’ve been pals for quite some time now, there’s no competition, just camaraderie. They are humans to me first, writers second. We exchange work but mostly we commiserate. The main thing I usually need is emotional support.

Do you want each of your books/stories to stand on their own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between them?

I’m trying to do both. I want each story to have its own legs, but I also want it to be able to get into that line and kick like the Rockettes along with all the other stories in my book. I’ve only written the one book, but I like to think that when I do have a body of work, all the books will echo off of each other.

Did publishing with Howling Bird Press change your process of writing?

I don’t think many writers get into the profession because they are really jazzed about marketing. Turns out writing a book and selling a book are two completely different animals. I am completely inept at the latter. And maybe the former, too, but shhhhhh. What publishing with Howling Bird Press taught me is that, although writing is, by nature, solitary, getting a book out into the world is very much a collaboration. I have depended so much on the expertise and hard work of the press. It’s such a relief to not have to go at it alone. It takes the pressure off and lets me focus on the actual writing.

What have you done since you won the Howling Bird Press prize?

Weathered a pandemic. Seriously, all of the events I had lined up were (rightly!) canceled. But that’s the case for every writer, every artist right now. It’s good, in a way. There’s only one thing to focus on: new work. And my day job. And taking care of two semi-feral kids.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot?

A house cat. Cats do not care what anyone thinks of them and they do what they want when they want. They start licking themselves in random places out of nowhere. They can be purring and rubbing up against your legs one minute and then clawing and biting your ankles the next. They cough up hairballs and don’t apologize! They find joy in the slightest wiggle of a string. They take lots of naps. And they are deeply weird.

How many unpublished and half-finished books/stories do you have?

Two half-finished books, I guess. But half-finished would be a generous assessment. One is a memoir and the other is a work of fiction. But lately, I’ve been sampling from one to use in the other, so maybe just one. Two disparate halves make a whole, right?

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I mostly research random things that come up, like “What did the little adoption certificates that came with Cabbage Patch dolls say?” or “How would you drive to Graceland in the 1980s and how long would it take to get there?” I did a lot of research for the story “Irreversible Things”—which is based on a real murder that happened on the side of my house when I was seven—but I didn’t end up using much of it. Maybe a partial line from an article in the newspaper. The research was mostly because I wondered whether the way I remembered those events was accurate.

Do you read your book reviews? Why or why not?

I do because I can’t not look. I have to know what people are saying about me! I did have one friend forward me an email his mom wrote in response to my book and I gave it to another friend first so she could make sure there wasn’t anything in it that would break me (there wasn’t). 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Oh! I like this question. I guess the biggest secret of my book—the thing people are most curious about—is what is truth and what is fiction. Even my family members don’t always know the answer to that question. My lips are sealed.

Q and A with Howling Bird Press Author Jacob M Appel

What is it about writing that energizes you?

Otherwise I might have to actually work for a living. Besides, I get to transform all of my enemies into characters they can’t recognize and then have them kidnapped by pirates or trampled by elephants.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Marriage. Children. Employment. The usual suspects. Alas, they’re generally unavoidable, so the trick is to write as quickly as possible until you find yourself with a mortgage and a golden retriever, and then to rest on your laurels. 

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Death. That’s going to be a major distraction. Although my agent often tells me my balance sheet is more likely to reach the black posthumously. Pretty women are also a nice distraction, but as one gets older, death increasingly nudges them out of the picture.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I dare not share their names because being known as a friend of mine might bring their literary careers to a grinding halt. I sometimes have that effect on people.

Do you want each of your books/stories to stand on their own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between them?

I am not nearly organized enough to be building a body of work. I just churn it out and hope some of it sticks. It helps that I have a team of elves and reindeer working alongside me.

What have you done since you won the Howling Bird Press prize?

I have a new short story collection, Winter Honeymoon, coming out with Black Lawrence in 2020. I’ve published nine additional books—four more story collections, three novels, a collection of poetry, and, most recently, Who Says You’re Dead?, an ethics book for laypeople. It’s amazing how much writing one can accomplish when trying to overcome one’s deep-seated childhood fears of inadequacy.

What did you do with your first advance?

I made a down payment on a gumball. The great thing about New York City is you can even buy candy on layaway.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot?

Debra Winger. Especially if the honor comes along with a date. (Apologies to her husband, who I’m sure is a swell fellow, but this is my moment in the spotlight, not his.)

How many unpublished and half-finished books/stories do you have?

Hundreds of stories. Maybe thousands. And my editor has a brand-new novel on her desk, in case you know of a major publisher interested in making an offer. Okay, it’s not exactly new. But it was written this century, so it’s not that old . . .

What did you edit out of this book, The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street?

The original version contained the location of the Holy Grail and a translation key to the Rongorongo glyphs of Easter Island, but I’ve decided to save them for the sequel.

Do you read your book reviews? Why or why not?

You assume that my books get reviewed. To the limited extent that they do, I pretend that they don’t. But I always make a point of thanking the reviewers, if I can find their addresses. I suppose that means I am occasionally thanking a reviewer who has panned my book, but that probably makes them rethink their vitriol, so it is still energy well-spent.